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French parliament adopts gay marriage law

Reuters/Charles Platiau

The French parliament voted in favour of same-sex marriage and adoption on Tuesday after a grassroots campaign against the bill which mobilised hundreds of thousands, a spike in hate crimes against gay couples and talk of a May '68-style uprising in France.

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After a rowdy and emotional debate, deputies voted 331 in favour of the bill and 225 against.The bill will become law when it is signed by President François Hollande and published in the Official Journal.

Opponents of the bill hope to delay the law by mounting a challenge in France’s constitutional council, but the government is confident that this will be dismissed, and the first gay marriage ceremonies will take place in June.

Many were surprised by the passionate opposition to this bill, and the scale of the movement. On protest marches, as well couples with pushchairs or children in tow, there was a significant number of young people.

Today's front cover of left-wing Libération
Today's front cover of left-wing Libération

Many of the young people were involved in flash protests – setting up unauthorised encampments, staging a sit-down in a key Paris street, organising lightening protests quickly, using social media networks.

Some French commentators detected an emerging culture war, similar to the polarised debate over abortion in the United States.

Others pointed to what they called the ‘Tea Partyisation’ of French politics on the right – noting that the opposition to gay marriage started at grassroots level before France’s right wing political parties, initially unsure, joined the protest.

And some have compared the anti gay marriage movement with France’s May '68 student revolution, although its spirit is in total contrast. May '68 was about breaking down barriers in society, about relaxing the rigid mores of French society at the time.

This time, the movement was about maintaining the status quo and preserving marriage in its current form.

Whatever was going on, the scale of the movement took many by surprise, and the acrimony of the past few months appears to have deepened divisions among the French people.

  • The mainstream anti gay marriage protestors wanted a referendum. They worry that the law will weaken the traditional family structure and lead to unforeseen consequences for children born (under various arrangements) to same-sex couples.
  • They say the issue is of such fundamental importance that there should first have been more public debate and they were angered when the government accelerated passage of the bill.
  • They resented what they felt were media attempts to ignore them or to portray them as homophobic. They disassociate themselves from the actions of far-right infiltrators who have latched on to the movement.
  • Supporters of the bill pointed out that it was one of François Hollande’s campaign promises before his election last year.
  • They felt that even though the mainstream opposition was peaceful, the movement created a climate which led to an increase in violence towards homosexuals and lesbians, and an outpouring of hate on internet.
  • They are concerned about an increase in activity by far-right groups or individuals over this issue - gunpowder was sent to the Socialist Speaker of French parliament telling him to delay the vote.

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